Over the past year, some of my Calvinist interlocutors here have challenged my claim that a god who unconditionally elects only some to save and saves them irresistibly, thus condemning others to eternal damnation (double predestination), is not worthy of worship because he cannot be good in any meaning of “good.” They have often offered illustrations and analogies. The most recent one was of a man who unconditionally pays the fines of some inmates, setting them free, but does not pay all of them even though he could. Wouldn’t such a man be considered good for paying the fines of some inmates even if he left others to their deserved sentences?
I don’t think that analogy quite matches what Calvinists believe God does. But let me work with it for a little bit before showing how it really doesn’t illustrate the Calvinist view.
Who would consider the man good (if this is all they know about him)? I suspect most people would not consider him good for this action UNLESS there was some other mitigating factor that qualified the “unconditional” part. Some people MIGHT consider the rich man good IF the inmates whose fines he paid were somehow more deserving than those whose fines he did not pay. But that would ruin the analogy completely because Calvinists insist God’s choice of the elect is absolutely undeserving.
I suspect MOST people who hear about the rich man paying the fines of some inmates unconditionally would insist on knowing why he paid those particular inmates’ fines and not others before judging whether his action was praiseworthy. I’m SURE the families of the inmates whose fines he did not pay would not consider his action praiseworthy (who could blame them?). To them it would seem the epitome of unloving and unjust action because it would be arbitrary. I think many would agree with them. I would.
Does the fact that they ALL deserve their punishment change the estimation of the rich man’s goodness in this action? I don’t think so–again, unless there was some reason why he paid some inmates’ fines and not others’. Just to say “it pleased him to do it” wouldn’t satisfy most fair-minded people or people considering whether the rich man is of good (i.e., loving) character.
Let’s change the analogy a bit. Suppose the rich man is the judge who sentenced all the inmates and has the legal authority to free them; he actually paid their fines himself! The judge goes to the jail and unlocks all the cell doors and announces that they are all free to leave. The only condition for leaving is opening the cell door, signing a document admitting guilt and acknowledging that someone else paid his fine. Some inmates do it and some don’t–remaining to serve their sentences even though that is wholly unnecessary.
Now, let’s go back to the original analogy. Calvinists claim the rich man who paid the fines of some and not of others is good because he showed mercy to some and left the others to their deserved punishment. Again, I doubt most people would think him good insofar as his choice of whose fines to free was arbitrary (as it would have to seem if it was absolutely unconditional). BUT! Suppose it turns out that the rich man paying SOME of the inmates’ fines (and not others) actually caused (whether directly or indirectly doesn’t matter) ALL of the inmates to commit their crimes. Suppose it comes out in the newspaper the next day that, in fact, although all the inmates broke the law willfully, the rich man had orchestrated their actions by putting them in situations where he knew they would “freely” break the law and be arrested and put in jail.
Then suppose the rich man publishes a column in the newspaper explaining that it doesn’t matter because all of the inmates broke the law freely and therefore all deserve their punishment and he was simply merciful to some and therefore worthy of praise. He admits that in some way he won’t explain he rendered it certain that all the inmates would “freely” break the law. His defenders explain that these are men and women who needed his help NOT to break the law and he withheld it, but he was not obligated to help them so they are all still guilty and he is not.
This is the right analogy to what high federal Calvinists believe. (See Against Calvinism where I prove this by quoting leading Calvinist theologians.)
Now, I ask, who would rightly consider that rich man “good?” Few. None should.